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Gary Sinise Salutes Veteran Family Caregivers

Rosie Babin gave up her job to care for her son Alan, who was grievously wounded in Iraq

spinner image Gary Sinise hugs Rosie Babin as the crowd celebrates her family's new home in 2017
Gary Sinise hugs Rosie Babin after her family received a smart home from the Gary Sinise Foundation's R.I.S.E. program in 2017.
Julia Robinson/Gary Sinise Foundation

I first met Rosie Babin in 2003. She was at the Fisher House, a temporary residence run by the charitable foundation and situated on the grounds of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center just outside Washington D.C. with her son, PFC Alan Babin of the 82nd Airborne Division.

On March 29, 2003, just nine days into the invasion of Iraq, Alan, then 23, had been the only medic in his 41-man platoon during a firefight beside a bridge across the Euphrates River in the city of Samawah, 150 miles south of Baghdad.

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When a soldier was wounded and the call for “Medic!” rang out, Alan didn’t hesitate. He’d joined the Army to protect his country after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and he did not hesitate when duty called. Alan ran toward gunfire and got about 15 feet when an AK-47 bullet ripped into his stomach.

The wound, the size and shape of a football, was devastating, destroying his spleen and 90 percent of his stomach. For his heroic actions that day, Alan was awarded the Bronze Star with “V” for Valor and the Purple Heart. 

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Army doctors feared he would not survive but Alan was eventually stabilized. Once he got to Walter Reed, his mother Rosie never left his side. That was more than two decades ago and she is still his constant companion and dedicated advocate.

In the first seven months, Alan underwent more than 70 surgeries. Burns on his arms and legs required skin grafts. His immune system battered, he contracted meningitis and suffered a stroke. Rosie was tenacious. A reporter noted that she would ask general questions such as “Is he in pain?” but also the highly specialized: “Would an endoscopic third-ventriculostomy be an alternative to the shunt?”

Alan’s stroke changed everything. “He had to learn to breathe on his own, to speak – when he started doing a thumbs up, that was huge,” Rosie later recalled.

It was clear he would need a lifetime of care. Rosie and her husband Alain — Al Sr. — knew that their own lives would never be the same again.

Rosie, now 63, and Al Sr., 64, were high school sweethearts in Del Rio, Texas, graduating in 1978 and marrying that summer. Al Sr. had already enlisted in the Army, and she joined up too, spending a 3½-year honeymoon in uniform in Germany courtesy of Uncle Sam.

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It was then that they decided to start a family. They like to joke that Alan was “made in Germany, born in the United States.” The couple retired from the military and Al Sr. took up a career in law enforcement, eventually settling in Round Rock, Texas.

It is in Round Rock that the Babin family lives today. Alan was eventually able to come home to live with his parents. He has made enormous progress and can now eat on his own, speak, dress himself and, using adaptive technology, go skiing, scuba diving, golfing and hand cycling.

spinner image Alan Babin Jr. opens an oven door in the kitchen of his new home in 2017
Alan Babin Jr. inspects the kitchen in his new home in 2017.
Julia Robinson/Gary Sinise Foundation

In 2017, I was honored to be able to present the Babins with a custom-built smart home as part of the Gary Sinise Foundation R.I.S.E. (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment) program. The smart home allows Alan to control everything in the home via an iPad, giving him a measure of independence back.

Rosie, who gave up her job managing an accounting office so she could care for her son, is an inspiration. We have stayed in touch over the years, crossing paths at various veterans support events. In 2010 I bumped into her, Al Sr. and Alan — who was promoted to corporal before being discharged from the Army — at the Beaufort Shrimp Festival in South Carolina. My band was supporting the veteran support organization, The Independence Fund, playing a concert during an event they called Lt Dan Weekend. Much of “Forrest Gump” was filmed in Beaufort.

She explained at the time: “It takes days of preparation to travel with someone in a wheelchair who is paraplegic. It's like having a 170-pound newborn, but it's so important that Alan have these relationships and have these goals.”

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Rosie is an inspiration to me and so many others. The Washington Post once described her thus: “She's the essence of Tex-Mex, a first-generation U.S. citizen with a kitchen drawer full of woven tortilla covers and a closet full of cowboy boots. She's addicted to personal organizers.

“She's a talker, a laugher, a dancer, a joker, a home-team booster, a five-places-at-once firebrand with a self-improvement streak and a trust in gut feelings.”

Having had the privilege of getting to know the Babin family over the years, I can attest to all this. I would add that she represents the best of us, a loving mother determined to do the very best for Alan, now 43, no matter what it takes.

Rosie Babin is one of thousands of heroic caregivers toiling away behind the scenes without expecting recognition. They are unsung American heroes, working 24/7 to provide the love and practical support that our most injured veterans need and deserve. We should honor them especially during National Family Caregivers Month in November. They are a reminder that there is never enough we can do for our veterans and first responders who have given so much for us.

Channeling Winston Churchill, Alan Babin likes to urge people: “Never, never, never give up.” He is the essence of determination and fighting spirit. He inherited this from his parents and I have seen up close how his mother Rosie exemplifies these awesome qualities every day.

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published twice a month. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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